February 6, 2009

From coast to coast, Chinese in U.S. celebrate New Year

Though her family is in China, Song “Sally” Chen celebrated the Chinese New Year in the traditional way with her Chinese friends in the United States last week.

The Chinese New Year is a time for families to reunite and celebrate, said Song, 21, who is studying business administration at Northwood University in Midland, Mich.

“People will go to visit their family or travel to other places to have fun,” she said. “We set off fireworks after we celebrate at 12 a.m.”

During the seven-day New Year’s celebration at home, Song said she usually visits all of her family and friends. It’s one of the holiday traditions that has been preserved in the U.S., along with others practiced by Chinese and Asian Americans, but often with a twist. In New York, for example, Sunday’s parade included a Mariachi band.

To prepare for the new year, people clean their houses, sweeping out the dust of the old year and allowing the luck of the new year to enter, said Carolyn H. Chan, 72, of Albuquerque, N.M.

It is also traditional to prepare all of the holiday food in advance because it is believed that using knives on New Year’s will cut into one’s luck.


Jeffrey Wong, 5, left, and his sister, Audrey Wong, 7, stand on a recycling bin on H Street in Chinatown Sunday, trying to see over the crowd at Sunday’s Chinese New Year’s celebration in Washington. SHFWire photo by Heather Lockwood

“But these are things that don’t apply to me because I’m a lousy housekeeper,” Chan joked. “You’re also supposed to pay off your debts, but that doesn’t work in this day and age because all of us have mortgages, don’t we?”

Like her mother, Chan was born in Mississippi and grew up in a “multi-racial” neighborhood. Her father was from China.

“We grew up learning about our heritage but not really practicing it much — we were forced to assimilate somewhat quicker,” said Chan, national executive vice president of the Chinese Americans Citizens Alliance. “The people that I grew up with, a lot of the families retained the language, but my family somehow didn’t, even though I went to Chinese school for three years — and this was during World War II, and we were segregated.”

On New Year’s in China families come together to make dumplings, play games, sing songs and watch the four-hour CCTV-Spring Festival Gala, the New Year’s party in Beijing, Song said.

She was born in Wuhan, China, the capital of the Hubei Province. She came to the U.S. about five months ago to go to school.

Because Song couldn’t be home for the holiday, she improvised. “This year I stayed here with my friends to celebrate the spring festival,” she said. “It’s really fun here, but I miss my family very much.”

Many Asians in the U.S. people across the country spent the holiday at home with their families and friends, but the public celebrations continued through the week.

A Chinese Lunar New Year parade was held Sunday in Washington’s Chinatown, along with indoor festivities at the Chinatown Community Cultural Center.

“On February 1st at the cultural center we have music, demonstrations, calligraphy, singing, kids crafts and lion dancing,” said Linda L. Wang, the center’s director of operations.

The free event was followed by the parade, which is usually on the Sunday after the Chinese New Year.

Wang said the center expected a few thousand Washington area visitors Sunday. “We have people come in and out, in and out throughout the day,” she said.

Because of a suspected gas leak on H Street, officials cancelled the post-parade firecracker display and cleared the area, cutting the festivities short.

“After standing around for two hours, I was disappointed, but I guess better safe than sorry. It’s not a great way to remember the beginning of the Year of the Ox,” said David V. Wendell, of College Park, Md., who works as a tour guide on Capitol Hill.

The Chinese Culture Center of San Francisco also had New Year’s events over the weekend, including Sunday’s parade, featuring floats, lion and dragon dancers, and different types of live music.

The parade is a mixture of a traditional Chinese lantern festival and a typical American parade with floats, Chan said.

Residents of New York weren’t without ways to celebrate the Chinese New Year, either.

The Better Chinatown Society organized the annual Lunar New Year party on Friday, featuring music and dancing, and Sunday’s Lunar New Year parade with floats, lion and dragon dancers, and different types of live music.

The volunteer organization provides new immigrants with a multitude of services and is dedicated to the betterment of Chinatown.

More than 10,000 people were expected to attend the parade, and more than 1,000 were expected to attend the party, said Kenneth Cheng, 52, of New York, chairman of the Fukien American Association. “That’s a traditional kind of celebration for the Chinese New Year,” he said.

Cheng said the Chinese New Year, or Lunar New Year, is celebrated in many Asian countries including Korea, Japan, Singapore, Malaysia, Vietnam, Taiwan and Indonesia.

When he was a child, Cheng said he wished every day was New Year’s Day because it is traditional for people of older generations to give young people money in red, a tradition that is still practiced today.

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